E ngā manu kura o te wā, tēnā koutou,
Āku whanauka, ki ora koutou,
E te hoa Ian, tēnā koe,
E ngā hoa mahi, me te huihui mai nei,
tēnā koutou, ki ora tātou katoa.
I regret that I cannot be in Dunedin today to join in celebrating Ian Smith's important new book, but I'm glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly about it.
Most New Zealand archaeologists will have sensed a certain disbelief in their authenticity when casual enquiries establish that they do not work on Grecian vases, Aztec temples or other suitably exotic and ancient topics. Yet if Māori archaeology with its cultural familiarity and shallow time depth seems an oxymoron to some, then historical archaeology must appear even more so. Surely archives and libraries are bulging with records of the lives and times of colonial Māori and Pākehā, so how could scattered bricks or broken bottles add anything substantial to that?
As if to confirm the casually uninformed implication that adding colour to the facts of history is what historical archaeology is all about, it has been slow to develop as a coherent disciplinary agenda and seldom has it been published prominently. Historical archaeology appears generally in local journals or, especially recently, as unpublished consultancy reports. Even major projects with significant findings, such as those on sealing and whaling by Ian Smith and Nigel Prickett, and Angela Middleton's work on Whenua Hou, were only published as Department of Conservation monographs.
In this context, Ian's book comes as a veritable revelation. All of a sudden, New Zealand's historical archaeology has its breakthrough publication.
Pākehā Settlements in a Māori World presents an astonishing cascade of cases to demolish the notion that archaeology is superfluous to historical enquiry. It goes on to show that historical archaeology might actually depend more than some prehistorical archaeology upon minutely precise stratigraphic excavation, because historical strata are often thin and complex, and the time ranges are measured in decades at most. Close stratigraphic control makes it possible to pick apart tight sequences of occupation and activity, in order to give chronological meaning to diverse assemblages of material culture. I have worked on many sites with Ian since 1978 and I know that he is unusually skilled in this demanding art. His book is replete with evidence attesting to the value of meticulous field archaeology as a unique historiographical method.
Another strength of Pākehā Settlements in a Māori World is that it illustrates a core theme for the continuing development of historical archaeology in New Zealand. Ian set this out in a 2004 publication which argued that analysing the histories of material things can trace the ways in which contingencies of European immigration and interaction with Māori led to the emergence of a distinctive Pākehā culture and identity, much as Polynesian migration to New Zealand had produced a distinctive Māori identity. The archaeology of cultural identity, Ian proposed, is a fundamental pathway for understanding the dynamics of culture contact and change and the origins of plural societies. This is clearly a manifesto worth continuing attention, especially as it complements other historical approaches to the colonisation era.
As the first substantial exposition of how historical archaeology can deepen and enrich understanding of our origins as New Zealanders, Pākehā Settlements in a Māori World needs to be brought without delay into current discussions about teaching New Zealand's history. It adds a new dimension to the ways in which history is manifested and studied and, just as importantly, it is an authoritative and immensely attractive volume. I have not yet seen a bound copy but the draft on my screen is quite mesmerizing. The text convinces with lucid writing and attention to detail, and the images are stunning in their variety and abundance. For New Zealand's historical archaeology, this book is just about all that you could want as a groundbreaking work and benchmark.
I congratulate Ian and the publishers on a brilliant achievement.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, noho ake rā.
5 November 2019